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Islam through editorial lenses: How American elite newspapers portrayed Muslims before and after September 11, 2001

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Islam is now the second largest religion and continues to grow rapidly, with about 1.61 billion Muslims worldwide. However, many misconceptions about this religion and its followers still persist in the United States due to media portrayals, cultural and language barriers, and lack of understanding of true Islam. Critics argue that the oversimplification of Islam's principles has contributed to an ethnocentric bias among citizens. This study analyses the content of three elite newspapers: The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post. The main purpose is to determine (1) whether American newspapers depicted Muslims more negatively after September 11, 2001, and (2) whether they significantly differed in their portrayal of Muslims a year before September 11 and a year after the terrorist attack. The study drew a stratified random sample of ten Sunday issues of each newspaper (e.g., five issues prior to September 11 and five issues after the tragic event) and analysed the editorial content of each selected issue. The findings revealed that all three newspapers portrayed Muslims more negatively after September 11, but that they did not significantly differ in their portrayal of Islam. Each newspaper had allotted more unfavourable terms than favourable and neutral terms combined for both periods. The dominant negative terms labelled Muslims as terrorists, extremists, fundamentalists, radicals, and fanatics. This study calls for future research to analyse the portrayal of Muslims in friendly as well as unfriendly countries to the United States.

Keywords: Islam; Muslims; bias; newspapers; stereotypes; terrorism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Alamo Photographic Inc, United States. 2: University of Texas at San Antonio, United States. 3: Louisiana State University, United States.

Publication date: November 1, 2010

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